A trend among young Iraqi artists is to depict the brutal, violent, political world in which they live – although their instructors and patrons would prefer happier subjects. Young artists in Iraq have been shaped by the US occupation and violence that has become part of their lives. Haleem Kasim, the creator of the paintings shown (both interestingly titled in English), attributed his shift to darker subjects to witnessing a car bombing in 2006. In the first piece, Dying, heads are mashed together in a dark, bluish-purple background; some seem to be screaming in pain or terror, others stare. The Bomb (below), perhaps referring to Kasim’s traumatic memories, has less-defined body parts in a more muted landscape, presenting the horror of a car bombing.
Art differs from other forms of media because its meaning can be more obscure. Art is generally less accessible to most people and it tends to be less entertaining than other media. Unlike media with a spoken component (such as film or television), paintings cannot tell the audience what they are trying to say. Meaning can be subtle and ambiguous – referring to other media, current or historical events, personal memories, or virtually anything else.
An artist needs his or her work to be sold to continue creating art. If the darker topics of Iraqi artists are not appreciated by buyers, then artists may have to succumb to outside pressure and create “happier” pieces (or they could make unwanted art and not make money). Differing conceptions of art – is it high culture, aesthetically-pleasing diversion, a means of expressing something otherwise inexpressible, a form of social or political dissent? – is another issue.
Media can be used to create an image of a nation, and the image these Iraqi artists are producing is one that challenges that “happy” image and the conventions the older generations of artists and political elite, who control the schools, awards, and funding these young Iraqis need. The pressure from buyers, instructors, and the political and art elite to compose more pleasant artworks has intimidated but not quite stifled the young artists of Iraq who have lived through traumatic times and wish to express their frustrations, emotions, memories, opinions, and surroundings in ways that may not depict their country in the best light or conform to others’ image of their nation.
The New York Times article on young Iraqi artists (assigned on 2/23): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/world/asia/19iraq.html
Iraqi Art, a non-profit for Iraqi artists (in the gallery are the two pieces by Haleem Kasim): http://www.iraqi-art.com/